By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Vayikra is the book of Kedushah, sanctity. In order to create
and maintain Kedushah, it is necessary for the Jew to observe a life of
self-discipline and constant connection to Hashem. In this context, the
complex laws of Tum’ah and T’harah (spiritual “impurity” and “purity”) are
central: One who has the closest contact with the holy – namely, one who
enters the Sanctuary – must be tahor, spiritually pure.
The Torah delineates various conditions that render a person tamei
(spiritually impure), such as contact with the carcass of an animal or of
certain species of lizards (Vayikra 11:24 –31; 39-40). Furthermore, utensils
can contract tum’ah:
And anything into which falls any of these, when they are dead,
shall become tamei – any vessel of wood, or cloth, or skin, or sackcloth – any
utensil with which work can be done, shall be put into water and remain tamei
until the evening, when it will be tahor. And any vessel of pottery into which
one of them falls, all that is in it shall be tamei, and it shall you break (Vayikra
Here, the Torah lists some of the types of utensils that can
become tamei. (Other utensils that can contract tum’ah are discussed in Bamidbar
However, not all utensils are susceptible to tum’ah. The very fact that the
Torah lists certain materials suggests that other materials are being
intentionally excluded from the list. The Torat Kohanim (Midrash Halachah on the
Book of Vayikra) makes this point explicitly:
“Or cloth, or skin – The verse compares skin to cloth: just as
cloth is from that which grows on the dry land, so is skin from that which grows
on dry land.”
Torah Temimah explains the reasoning of the Torat Kohanim. Although skin could
theoretically have referred to the derivative of any creature, the analogy to
cloth places a restriction on the definition of skin: namely, skin that is like
cloth. Now, the examples of cloth given by the Torah (Vayikra 13:47) are wool
and linen. This establishes the principle that cloth is defined as that which is
woven from materials that originate on the dry land, such as wool that is taken
from animal shearings, or from plant fibers (see Rambam, Laws of Utensils 1:11).
Skin is subjected to the same restriction. As a result, utensils made from
creatures that do not live on dry land cannot become tamei. For example, items
made from the bones of a bird are “immune” to Tum’ah (Rambam, Ibid, 1:2).
The same is true of items made from sea plants, or the bones or skin of sea
creatures: since they do not originate on dry land, they cannot become tamei.
The Mishnah (Kelim 17:14) summarizes that that which was created on the fifth
day of Creation (sea creatures and birds, Bereishit 1:20-23) has no connection
An interesting exception to this is found in the previous Mishnah (Kelim 17:13):
Everything that is in the sea is tahor, except for kelev
ha’mayim [possibly the seal], because it flees to the dry land: these are the
words of Rabbi Akiva.
Rabbi Akiva – whom the law follows – teaches that even though the kelev ha’mayim
lives most of its life in the water, the fact that it takes refuge, in times of
danger, on the dry land determines that it is a land animal. A utensil made from
the hide of the kelev ha’mayim is thus capable of becoming tamei.
Rabbi Akiva’s teaching contains an important guideline for human behavior as
well. It is in time of danger that we must demonstrate where we consider our
Two applications of this idea would be instructive. The Talmud (Berachot 61b)
It once happened that the [Roman] government decreed that Israel was permitted
to be involved in Torah. What did Rabbi Akiva do? He went and made public
gatherings and sat and expounded. Pappus ben Yehudah found him and said, “Akiva,
are you not afraid of this nation?”
Said he to him, “I will give you a parable. To what can this be compared? To a
fox who was walking above the river. He saw fish rushing to and fro. He said to
them, ‘Why are you rushing?’
“They said to him, ‘Because of the nets and traps that are set for us.’
“He said to them, ‘Don’t you want to come up on dry land? Then you and I will
live together, as my ancestors once lived with your ancestors.’
“They said to him, ‘Are you the one of whom it is said that he is the cleverest
of beasts?! You are not clever but foolish! If we are afraid in the place that
is the source of our life, then all the more so in the place of our death!’
“So are we: At the time when we are involved in Torah, of which it is written,
‘For it is your life and the length of your days’ (Devarim 30:20), we are
afraid, then if we were to cease from Torah, all the more so.”
Rabbi Akiva again teaches the definition of “home”. The “natural habitat” of the
Jewish people is in the study of Torah. It serves as the source of our life. We
continue to study Torah, even when it is dangerous to do so, because a life
without Torah means certain spiritual death. If we continue our connection to
Torah in times of danger, we demonstrate that Torah is our only true “home”.
The “natural habitat” of the nation of Israel is in the land of Israel. While
individual Jews might be unable to live in Eretz Yisrael, and while local Jewish
communities may need to exist in exile, the only natural place for the Jewish
people to constitute itself as a sovereign, independent nation is in Eretz
Yisrael. As the Zohar (Emor 93) says, “ In Israel, they are one nation.” (This
citation and many others, are to be found in “Torat Eretz Yisrael,” Chapter 5,
based on the teachings of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, as well as throughout
“Eim Ha’banim Semeichah”, by HaRav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal.) Outside of Eretz
Yisrael, we are not one nation.
It is in times of danger that we show where we wish, to be. To sever the nation
of Israel from the land Israel is to sever if from the source of its life and
its national identity. If we maintain the nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael,
even when it is dangerous to do so, we demonstrate that Eretz Yisrael is Klal
Yisrael’s only true home.
In our Torah, and in our land, the Jewish people truly and fully exists. They
constitute our nation’s “home,” where we can aspire to Kedushah.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The Torah introduces the dietary restrictions with the words: "Zot hachaya
asher tochlu - These are the animals that you may eat (Vayikra 11:2)."
However the term "chaya," which usually indicates a wild animal, here
seems difficult since the verse continues "mekol habeheima asher al
haaretz - from all the animals which are on the land;" beheima usually
indicates a domesticated animal. Therefore Rashi explains (see Gur Aryeh)
that the term "chaya" is being used here specifically to associate kashrut
with the greater concept of chaim, life. "Since Bnei Yisrael are so
closely connected to Hashem and are worthy of chaim, therefore I have
separated them from tumah, and commanded them to do mitzvot, and to the
nations of the world I have not commanded anything." Our separation from
the world through the means of kashrut brings us to "chaim," an expression
of the fullest, deepest, most complete living possible.
Eretz Yisrael is given the title "Eretz ha-Chaim (Psalms 142:6)." In - or
through - Israel, Am Yisrael seemingly also withdraws from the company of
the nations of the world. But in reality it is precisely our step back
that enables us to take the greatest step forward towards real chaim, the
true life of Yisrael, and to fulfill our destiny of enlightening the
world, being an "ohr lagoyim" (See Rav Kook, Orot p. 153).
Rabbi Ari Waxman, Yeshivat Sha'alvim
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320